ENDICOTT – Shaun Dolac has played some inspired football all season. But near the two-year anniversary of the death of his father, Dolac took his game to another level and in the process carried West Seneca East to where it has never gone before.
The Trojans will play for the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class A championship next weekend in Syracuse for the first time in program history.
They earned their spot by surviving a slugfest with Section III champion Indian River, 50-42, before an estimated 1,000 Friday night at frigid Union-Endicott High School.
Dolac rushed for five touchdowns, ran in a pair of 2-point conversions and also completed a huge 2-point conversion pass in the fourth quarter that gave the Trojans the lead for good. West Seneca East scored 36 points in the second half to overcome a 22-14 halftime deficit.
“I just wanted to play for him tonight; It’ll be two years tomorrow,” said Dolac, who like his two older brothers who played for West Seneca East wears No. 33 in honor of their father, who wore that number during his playing days. “I just hope he’s looking down on me and is proud. I play for him.”
Dolac’s father, John, passed away after a battle with cancer.
Though the Trojans had trouble stopping Indian River’s double-wing offense, they pounced on three turnovers, recovered an onside kick and then for good measure recovered a squib kick after Dolac’s 49-yard TD capped the scoring and enabled East to run out the final 76 seconds.
West Seneca East returns to action next Friday at 3 p.m. in the Carrier Dome where it will face Cornwall Central of Section IX. Cornwall edged II-Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, 21-20, in the other NYSPHSAA Class A semifinal.
The Trojans (11-1) advanced by being able to withstand some tough shots in the form of long runs from the previously unbeaten Warriors (11-1) and by wearing them down enough so that they could capitalize on mistakes.
The first came early in the third quarter when Cam Cacciotti scooped up a bad snap and returned it 26 yards for the touchdown. Dolac ran in the conversion to tie things at 22-22.
The teams exchanged touchdowns but the Trojans went into the fourth quarter with a one-point lead, 29-28, after Dolac scored on a 7-yard run. It was during that drive in which the Trojans started throwing everything they had in the arsenal at their foes, as Dolac completed back-to-back passes for gains of 17 and 18 yards to Jesse Pfeiffer.
"We talked about it all week. ... We said they're going to have some plays, they're going to have some success (with their double-wing offense)," East coach Jim Maurino said. "We just have to hang in there, stay in the center of the ring and keep swinging. We have weather the storm. We were able to get them to make some mistakes and had things go our way. We capitalized on those and at the end we had one more than they did."
Indian River took its final lead, 36-29, just 48 seconds into the fourth quarter on Guillermo Rosario-Acosta’s 45-yard run. The Trojans tied it on Dolac’s 1-yard run and a PAT kick from Matt Sztaba with 7:36 left.
A fumble recovery 11 seconds later by Jack Turner set up West Seneca East at IR’s 38. Just when it seemed the possession was doomed after an 8-yard loss via sack on first down, Dolac got 11 yards back on the next play with one of his usual hard, aggressive runs to set up a third-and-7 in which he slung a ball down field that Zach Arnone caught to give the Trojans first and goal inside the 3. Dolac scored from the 1 with 4:34 left to break the 36-36 tie. After a holding penalty pushed the conversion back, Dolac found an unguarded Arnone in the middle of the end zone for the two-point conversion.
The Trojans needed that as Indian River matriculated the ball downfield with Rosario-Acosta scoring from the 2 with 2:09 left to make it 44-42. A false start on the PAT conversion pushed the two-point attempt back 5 yards. The pass play on the conversion fell incomplete.
Still, it appeared the Warriors executed a perfect onside kick only to be denied by the hands and determination of East’s Garrett Walker. Two plays later, Dolac scored from the 49 to make it 50-42.
Indian River still had a life after the PAT kick sailed wide but watched as its season died on the ensuing squib kick to an open spot. Devare Mathis of the Trojans recovered, putting his team in a spot where all it had to do was to kneel down and milk the final seconds since IR ran out of timeouts.
“We’re a second half team but we knew at halftime we had to get going, never give up. Fortunately we got some turnovers,” Dolac said. “We’re going to do everything in our power to win a state championship for Western New York.”